The History of the Westlake Haka

This Saturday the Westlake 1st XV Rugby team will kick-off their North Harbour Secondary Schools Championship campaign playing Takapuna Grammar School away. As has been the tradition for many years, our young men will challenge their opponents with a haka and it was thirty years ago this year that the haka was first performed by the Westlake 1st XV Rugby team.

Kerry Hill, Westlake’s 1984 1st XV Rugby Coach, commissioned Bert McLean to write a haka especially for the 1st XV Rugby team. Bert, fluent in Maori with tribal affiliation to the Tuhoe people from the Eastern Bay of Plenty had a vast experience of haka and waiata writing in combination with his passion for rugby and rugby coaching thus making him the perfect man for the job. A Navy man for 22 years, Bert coached the Rugby Navy team and the Combined Services Representative side as well as the Glenfield Seniors. Although at first apprehensive about whether the haka would be used appropriately, Bert took great pains to explain the cultural significance to the 1st XV Rugby players and spent many hours taking the players through the words and movements of the “Westlake 1st XV Haka”.

After weeks of preparation the haka was performed at the school assembly on the Monday before the match against Mount Albert Grammar. At that assembly Bert addressed the students eloquently about the significance of the haka. He then blessed it with a Maori prayer and the 1st XV players took the stage to perform a skilled, precise, spirited and forceful haka. No one in the audience could have failed to be rocked by the challenge contained within the haka and the students’ reaction was a thunderous applause that went on for a long time. The overall feeling was that this was a proud and historic moment in the history of the school.


1984 1st XV Rugby Captain, Leigh Sefton, remembers the introduction of the 1st XV Rugby haka very well. “It was definitely something new and exciting for Westlake at the time. Our players had faced hakas by the likes of St Stephens Boys’ (Bombay) and Gisborne Boys’ High School over the previous few years which were very inspiring.

Bert taught us the haka before and after trainings for several weeks until we were ready for our stage debut in front of the whole school.  I can remember saying to the boys that if we were to do this haka, then there was only one way to do it; with passion, aggression and total commitment. Our rugby team was fully informed of what our haka meant and why we were performing it, and whilst the bulk of our players were New Zealanders of non-Maori descent, we embraced the opportunity to learn more about the Maori culture through understanding the words and actions of the haka. That day, we performed it with great passion, aggression and vigour and as you can imagine it felt great and was very well received.”

It was Mount Albert Grammar School’s 1st XV that was the first to be on the receiving end of the Westlake 1st XV haka the following Saturday. From there on it was performed before most other matches for the remainder of the 1st XV season and by the U15 team on their South Island tour. On the few occasions when the 1st XV didn’t perform the haka, the players felt that something was missing from their game. All players appreciated the Westlake mana given to such an important aspect of Maori culture and tradition. It was Kerry Hill’s hope that in future years everyone in the school would learn the haka and that it would become a proud tradition at Westlake.

WBHS 2015 Haka CompLittle did he know that thirty years on, albeit it being a different version from the 1984 1st XV Rugby haka, Westlake Boys perform the Westlake School Haka – Te Haka O Ururoto at a variety of special Westlake occasions both in New Zealand as well as overseas. The annual Westlake House Haka Competition has become one of the highlights of the school’s calendar and has become a proud tradition that stays with Westlake students long after they leave school. One of the most memorable and emotional hakas ever performed was a whole school haka performed to boys visiting from Christchurch Boys High on the day of Christchurch earthquake on Tuesday 22 February 2011.

We would like to thank Westlaker, Leigh Sefton for sharing his memories.

If you hear any news about Westlake Old Boys or former staff or if you are interested in supporting Westlakers events and activities, please contact Mrs Christine O’Dowd at school on 09 410 8667 or by email [email protected]